Thursday, June 02, 2011

Brands Don't Matter, Batteries Do

With the rapture behind us and several more raptures ahead of us, I thought it would be the perfect time to discuss that ever-so-important tool of survival... the flashlight. As a flashlight aficionado/geek, this one actually pains me a bit to say, but unless you're in a public safety profession where you need a fancy specialty light (weaponlight, hazardous environment rated, dive light, something to cut through smoke or forest, etc), pretty much any modern light that you can get these days at CVS, Sears, Target, Home Depot or Wal-Mart will serve you in an emergency.

Yes, using a modern flashlight with LEDs (no bulbs to worry about burning out or breaking), power regulating circuitry and ruggedized/waterproof casing is helpful. But (and this is important), as long as it uses easy-to-find batteries (no watch or camera batteries), you'll probably be okay. In an emergency situation, easy-to-find basically means AA and AAA batteries... and that is it.
For us old-timers, or "classics" as I prefer, who didn't grow up with eBay and DealExtreme, C and D batteries are still ingrained as "flashlight batteries," which means they disappear from stores pretty fast. From anecdotes as recently as the Northeast blackout of 2003, C and D batteries were usually cleaned out, but AA and AAA batteries were always available.

Go hands-free! A good quality LED headlamp can do pretty much anything a handheld can do, at least for what a typical person would need in an emergency. Headlamps tend to have wider flood and lesser throw, but you can hold them in your hand (wrap the head strap around your wrist) as well as wear them on your head (duh) to keep your hands free when you're making a sandwich or changing a tire. (Just try not to shine them into the eyes of the people you're talking to, it's really quite annoying.)

In emergencies, output is okay, but run time rules! In an emergency that leads to an extended power outage, unless you're in one of those aforementioned specialty occupations, most people will find that run time is far, far more important than brightness. When it's truly dark out, a light can become "too bright" to be usable pretty quickly. LED, cold fluorescent, or even electroluminescent lanterns are plenty fine for typical indoor use— adjustable settings will also let you find the right balance between usability and battery life.

More is usually better! You don't have to be like me (a mostly-reformed, formerly unhinged flashlight collector— but you should see those other guys), but you should have a couple of lights, so you don't have to cannibalize your emergency kit for a light for the kids on Halloween. Preferably, have a light in each one of your emergency kits, one in the glove box of each of your cars, and a few others in the house (master bedroom, kitchen drawer, utility room— preferably enough so you have one for each member of the family so the kids don't fight.) No matter how many flashlights you have, check them periodically to make sure they still work, especially if you store them loaded with alkaline batteries, which can leak acid and cause flashlights (especially modern LED ones) to break. Lithium batteries are more expensive but don't have this problem.

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